One question the public seem to love asking members of Regia is "How much was it worth?" It doesn't matter whether it's a sword or a buckle, they always seem to want to know the cost.
Working out how much something was worth in an economy based largely on barter (even if a common coinage was available) is not easy, even in contemporary relative terms, let alone with a modern equivalent. However, that is what I am going to try and do in this article, if only in very general terms. One thing to bear in mind is that some items varied in value considerably, depending on what part of Europe you were in, so sometimes several values will be given for the same item. We must also bear in mind that the few sources we have available date anywhere from the seventh to eleventh century, so there might be some variation in price with time.
Most of the information we have comes from written laws, particularly the laws written down in the reigns of Ine and Alfred, where an average or rough 'replacement value' for an item would be given (although we do also have many fines that could be imposed too). However, we do also have a few references to actual 'retail prices' for some items, particularly from some of the Frankish sources.
This might seem like an odd question, but the value of money in Early Medieval Britain was quite a variable thing. In its simplest form Early English money was divided into pounds, shillings and pence. Unfortunately the subdivisions were not the same as our pre-decimal coinage. The pound was the Troy pound (approx. 11.5 modern ounces or 373g) divided into 240 pennies (making a Saxon penny about 1.55g). To make matters even more complicated, the shilling did not have a constant value, varying from 4-6 pence, not the more recent 12 pence. For the purpose of this article I will be figuring a shilling to be worth an average 5 pence (48 shillings to the pound). Of course, the pound itself referred to a pound of silver. An this is the point to mention that when Ethelred was paying off the Vikings with their 'Danegeld', he was doing so in pounds weight of silver, not in pounds cost. Which then goes on to demonstrate how wealthy England was at this time, because it was a practice that occurred over a 22 year period on and off. No wonder the Vikings kept coming. And even after all this asset stripping, England was still worth taking control of, just as Cnut did in 1016.
All of this explanation is an over-simplification of how Saxon coinage worked, but I'll let someone with far more knowledge of Numismatics than myself write a more detailed article on that particular subject (hint, hint).
Having got a rough idea of how the coinage worked, we need to work out how much that was worth in modern terms. An obvious solution might seem to be to use the bullion value of silver today, giving a silver penny a value of about 25 - 30p and a pound of silver a value of about £60 - 72. However, the relative value of silver today is in fact far lower than in early medieval times. There are several other ways of working out relative values such as the 'ale standard' or soldier's rates of pay, or many others. The theory behind the ale standard is that even since the dawn of the paid soldier, whether with coin or barter, the price of a pint of ale has remained in relative terms the same. Another theory follows the same reasoning that the price of bread has also stayed constant in relative terms to the wages that a warrior or soldier would have demanded.
Depending on which figures you use you can get a figure of a Saxon penny being worth anything from £10 - 200, although most methods give a figure in the range of £20 - 50, so for the purposes of this article I will demonstrate using the following (low) conversion rates: 1 Saxon silver penny = £20, 1 shilling = £100 and 1 pound = £4800. Again this is an oversimplification, but accurate enough for the purposes of this article.
In the following tables I will give the value in Early English pounds (l), shillings (s) or pence (d), weight of silver (g) and modern pounds sterling (£)
After each item I will note whether the price comes from Britain [B], Western Europe [W], Central Europe [C], Northern Europe [N] or Eastern Europe [E].
|15 chickens [C]||1d||1.55g||£20|
|Ewe and Lamb [B]||1s||8g||
|Fledged Peregrine Falcon [B]||1l||372g||£4,800|
|Fledged Sparrow Hawk [B]||24d||37g||£480|
|Foreigner's Lap Dog [B]||4d||6g||£80|
|Freeholder's Buck Hound [B]||120d||186g||£2,400|
|Freeman's Lap Dog [B]||120d||186g||£2,400|
|Hawk's nest (Peregrine) [B]||1l||372g||£4,800|
|Sparrow Hawk Nest [B]||24d||37g||£480|
|Unfledged Peregrine Falcon [B]||120d||186g||£2,400|
|Unfledged Sparrow Hawk [B]||12d||18g||£240|
|Virgin Swarm of Bees [B]||16d||25g||£320|
|Swarm of bees from a second swarm [B]||8d||12g||£160|
|Swarm of bees from Virgin swarm [B]||12d||18g||£240|
|Hive of Bees [B]||24d||37g||£480|
|Hive swarm after august [B]||4d||6g||£80|
|Old Swarm of Bees [B]||24d||37g||£480|
|Second Swarm of Bees [B]||12d||18g||£240|
|King's Greyhound [B]||120d||186g||£2,400|
|King's Hunting Dog, trained [B]||1l||372g||£4,800|
|King's Hunting Dog, untrained [B]||120d||186g||£2,400|
|King's Hunting Dog, 1 yr old [B]||60d||93g||£1,200|
|King's Hunting Dog, young [B]||30d||46g||£600|
|King's Hunting Dog, Dog, pup with unopened eyes [B]||15d||23g||£300|
|King's Lap Dog [B]||1l||372g||£4,800|
|Common House Dog [B]||4d||6g||£80|
|Stranger's or Dunghill Dog [B]||4d||6g||£80|
|Male Slave [N]||197.5d||306g||£3,950|
|Female Slave [E]||131.5d||204g||£2,630|
|Shield and Spear [C]||88.5d||137g||£1,770|
|Sword and Scabbard [C]||308.5d||478g||£6,170|
|Accepting service of another's ceorl [B]||120s||930g||£12,000|
|Ceorl seeking new lord [B]||60s||465g||£6,000|
|Binding an innocent ceorl [B]||10s||77g||£1,000|
|Binding an innocent ceorl and shaving him like a priest [B]||60s||465g||£6,000|
|Fighting (not in war) [B]||120s||930g||£12,000|
|Ceorl entering into illicit union [B]||50s||387g||£5,000|
|Thegn entering into illicit union [B]||100s||775g||£10,000|
|Ceorl neglecting fyrd duty [B]||30s||232g||£3,000|
|Failure to perform fyrd duty [B]||40-50s||310-387g||£4,000-5,000|
|Landless thegn neglecting fyrd duty [B]||60s||465g||£6,000|
|Thegn neglecting fyrd duty[B]||120s||930g||£12,000 (+ land)|
|Danegeld paid between 990-1015 [B]||250,000l+||93,000kg+||£1,200,000,000+|
|Freeman working on Sunday [B]||60s||465g||£6,000|
|Ordering a slave to work on Sunday [B]||30s||232g||£3,000|
|Priest working on Sunday [B]||120s||930g||£12,000|
|Raping a female slave [B]||65s||504g||£6,500|
|Holding a woman's breast [B]||5s||39g||£500|
|Seducing a free woman [B]||60s||465g||£6,000|
|Throw a woman down but not lie with her [B]||10s||77g||£1,000|
|Not baptising child within 30 days of birth [B]||30s||232g||£3,000|
|Removing a nun from a nunnery without permission [B]||120s||930g||£12,000|
|Reward for catching thief [B]||10s||77g||£1,000|
|Violation of an archbishop's protection [B]||3l||1,116g||£14,400|
|Violation of bishop/eolderman's protection [B]||2l||744g||£9,600|
|Violation of ceorl's protection [B]||6s||46g||£600|
|Violation of church's protection [B]||50s||387g||£5,000|
|Violation of the king's protection[B]||5l||1,860g||£24,000|
Note: There were many other fines,
but including them all would take up too much space.
What is clear, though, is that in Anglo-Saxon England what was most important was not what you did, but who you did it to.
|Landless Thegn [B]||600s||4650g||£60,000|
|Landless Welsh [B]||50s||387g||£5,000|
|Landed Welsh with 1/2 Hide [B]||80s||620g||£8,000|
|Welsh tribute payer (1 hide) [B]||120s||930g||£12,000|
|Welsh tribute payer's son [B]||80s||620g||£8,000|
|King's Welsh Horseman [B]||200s||1550g||£20,000|
|Welsh with 5 hides [B]||600s||4650g||£60,000|
|1kg Corn [W]||2d||3g||£40|
|Cow eye [B]||1d||1.5g||£20|
|Cow horn [B]||2d||3g||£40|
|Cow Tail [B]||5d||8g||£100|
|Ox Eye [B]||5d||8g||£100|
|Ox Horn [B]||10d||15g||£200|
|Ox Tail [B]||1s||8g||£100|
|Beaver Skin [B]||120d||186d||£2,400|
|Fox skin [B]||8d||12g||£160|
|Marten Skin [B]||24d||37g||£480|
|Otter skin [B]||8d||12g||£160|
|Wolf skin [B]||8d||12g||£160|
|Fyrdsman's pay/month [B]||10s||77g||£1,000|
|Hide of land (approx. 120 acres) [B]||1l||372g||£4,800|
|Land tax/hide [B]||2s||15g||£200|
|Silk (1oz) [E]||37d||57g||£740|
Click here to return to the village.
Click here to return to the manor of Drengham.
Click here to return to the market.
Click here to return to the 21st Century.